A sway bar is now commonly available on most automobiles, and some even have two; however, it should technically be called an anti-sway or anti-roll bar. Contrary to its name, it aims to prevent your car from tilting or rolling over in corners. But what are they, and what does the sway bar do?
As the car is driven around a corner at high speed, your body will lean to the outside and away from the corner, and you will feel that sensation in your vehicle. The purpose behind a sway bar is to send a twisting force to the opposite side of the car to level it out and reduce body roll.
We’ll go over all you need to know about sway bars in this guide, whether you’re replacing one or just trying to figure out how they operate.
- What Is A Sway Bar?
- What Are Its Types?
- How To Adjust?
- When To Replace?
Sway Bar: What Is It?
A sway bar is a U-shaped metal bar that attaches to the strut or control arm at each vehicle’s wheel. It is also known as an anti-roll bar, anti-sway bar, or stabilizer bar. A sway bar is not found on every car, and there are several varieties.
They aren’t always in the traditional “u” shape, and some are solid while others are hollow. While the exterior look of a sway bar can vary, they all serve the same purpose. The next step is to understand what does the sway bar do.
What Does The Sway Bar Do?
When one wheel travels lower or higher than the other, and weight transfers from one side of the vehicle to the other, such as when rounding a corner, a sway bar resists the twisting force applied to it. The bar strives to maintain the wheels as level as possible while providing resistance.
The sway bar is attached to the suspension control arms and connects the suspension components of your car (one side to the other). It’s worth mentioning that sway bars are routed through bushings to ensure that they can only twist and not move up and down. As a result, as the vehicle turns a corner, weight shifts from one side to the other. In the instance of a right-hand turn, the car rolls over to the right.
The sway bar twists when the wheel moves up towards the body, causing the weight to shift back to the other side of the vehicle. As a consequence of this movement, the vehicle begins to level out, reducing the amount of roll during cornering.
Other factors, such as other suspension components and the engineers’ goal when tuning the vehicle’s ride and handling characteristics, are also under effect. There will generally be a variation in the stiffness of the front and rear sway bars.
This is crucial to understand what does the sway bar do because most car manufacturers strive for a balance of comfort and performance. When a sway bar is overly stiff, it will try to oppose wheel movement (up or down) when one wheel meets a bump, making the car feel too hard and uncomfortable. It’s possible that the vehicle will bounce off the bump, depending on how the rest of the suspension has been tuned.
Symptoms Of A Bad Sway Bar Or Anti-Roll Bar
After learning what does the sway bar do, the following step is to determine the signs and symptoms of a failing sway bar.
1. Unusual Sounds From The Sway Bars
The deterioration of the bushings is one of the most common reasons for sway bar failure. You’ll hear a rattling noise as these parts start to fail. When going over a bump, this sound is amplified.
When the sway bar links or bushings break, however, there are other sounds you could hear. Listen for a screeching sound. As the condition worsens, you may be able to hear the booms even on level highway areas.
2. Difficulty Taking Turns
The tires can no longer maintain a firm hold on the road as the sway bar links become loose. It’s more challenging to take a typical turn with this lack of handling. As you try to turn, you will feel the condition in the steering wheel. Getting your vehicle where it needs to go will take more work. This issue can be attributed to the links, but it can also occur when the bushings erode.
3. Swerving Side-To-Side In A Car
The sway bar is failing, which affects stability and durability. You’ll notice handling concerns even if you’re not going through a turn. It may feel as if the car is spinning out of control or that components are tumbling off. You will sense a substantial loss of control over the direction of your car while you hold the steering wheel.
4. Worn Out Sway Bars
The sway bar, links, and bushings are the best because they can all be quickly inspected. A visual examination is one method of determining if there is a problem. The links will be entirely worn out. The rubber bushings or nuts at both ends of these links may also lose their solid, round shape or become hard and ripped.
The sway bar links are worn out if they become loose and move freely with your hand. They can also dislodge from the sway bar or control arms in extreme circumstances. You should never drive your car if the parts are this worn out because you risk losing control.
Various Types Of Sway Bars
While most sway bars are U-shaped bars that bend to keep your car from rolling, today’s units come in various shapes and sizes. The following are the four most popular sway bars. They all do the same thing, but the way they do it differs slightly.
- Hollow (tubular)
- Active anti-roll bar system
1. Solid Sway Bars
The most prevalent type of sway bar used in current vehicles is solid sway bars. On the same axle, there is a solid u-shaped metal bar that joins one wheel assembly to the other. They disperse the excess tension by twisting as you round turns. Solid sway bars are strong and long-lasting, but they are also somewhat hefty.
2. Hollow Sway Bars
Sway bars that are hollow or tubular are identical to solid sway bars in every manner except one. It’s hollow on the interior rather than solid metal. This provides a number of performance advantages, and they are usually long-lasting. Although hollow sway bars are slightly more expensive than solid sway bars, they are more popular among performance automobiles due to their lighter weight.
3. Splined Sway Bars
There are a few sway bars that are entirely straight, despite the fact that most are U-shaped. Splined sway bars are hollow or solid and can be hollow or solid. They function similarly to a standard sway bar, except that they spin straight into the connecting arms.
4. Active Anti-Roll Bar System
While hollow and splined sway bars are prevalent in performance vehicles and race cars, there is another technique that outperforms them both. The active anti-roll bar system is what it’s called. This is an electronic system that is controlled by the ECU in your vehicle. As you turn, the computer works with sensors and actuators to adjust your vehicle’s suspension.
Your car removes the need for a standard sway bar by lowering one side of the vehicle to accommodate shifting motion. It implies you’ll be carrying less weight, which will improve your performance significantly. These systems, on the other hand, will only be found in the most high-end vehicles. Other brands use sway bars, but their stiffness can be adjusted in real-time. Because this field is rapidly evolving, there will undoubtedly be more varieties in the future.
Sway Bar Replacement And Adjustment Instructions
While a sway bar fails infrequently, the bushings do wear out. Even if you’re just changing the bushings, the complete unit must be removed. The specific processes vary depending on the car, but it’s not as difficult as you might think if you have a good mechanic’s toolset and some extra tools. To make the job easier, you’ll need:
- Begin by jacking up the front or rear of your vehicle. If your sway bar is in the back, jack up the back. If the problem is in the front, raise the front. While removing the tires isn’t always necessary, it will make the job much easier.
- Remove the bolts that connect it to the sway bar links. After that, you can proceed to the bolts that secure the sway bar bushings to the frame of your vehicle.
- After removing both sets of bolts, gently pry the sway bar out from the housing. Before you can completely remove the sway bar, it will frequently hit numerous components.
- Remove the sway bar out of the wheel one side at a time. You won’t be able to take the sway bar straight out because it’s usually U-shaped.
- After you’ve removed the sway bar, you may either replace the bushings or the entire component.
- Then, using the same techniques as before, reinstall the sway bar. It may take some effort to reinstall the sway bar, but the new one should fit well if you got the previous one out that way.
How To Adjust A Splined Sway Bar
While most sway bars are difficult to modify, splined sway bars are not. To change it over, simply spin the sway bar in one direction or the other. The more you change the sway bar in one direction, the more it affects how your car handles turning in that direction.
However, it will not be as good in preventing rolling in the opposite way. It’s ideal for vehicles that turn in the same direction on the track all the time. A well-aligned one will prevent rolling in both directions, which is precisely what most daily drivers want.
Sway Bars: Why Do We Have Them?
The primary purpose of using a sway bar is for safety. When a car is unstable too much in turn, it can be pretty dangerous. They help keep the car from sliding in corners, in addition to the apparent threat of a rollover. This prevents the wheels from losing traction, which could cause a driver to slide. This makes the car more difficult to handle.
Sway bars, on the other hand, can cause problems, which is why they are not put on all vehicles, and those that are, are not installed in the same way. One of the most typical sway bar connection symptoms is a too-rigid system, which causes the entire car to feel stiff while going over a bump.
If a wheel is too rigid, it has a higher chance of becoming airborne. Sway bars that are more rigid are often seen in cars that will be subjected to significant turning forces on smooth roads. A racing car or a powerful sports car, such as a Ford Mustang or a Dodge Charger, is a good example of this.
Because these vehicles are expected to be driven at high speeds on solid roads, they have larger rear and front sway bars. As a result, a stiffer bar allows these cars to make tighter turns while reducing the risk of losing their grip on the road and flying off.
If you’re driving an off-road vehicle, the sway bar is likely to be much less rigid, or possibly non-existent, depending on the vehicle. A Jeep Wrangler, for instance, must be capable of handling significant bumps. Given that most Jeep Wranglers are driven on solid pavement, they are almost certain to have a sway bar, albeit one that is significantly less robust than that of a racing car.
Sway Bars Vs. Shock Absorbers: What’s The Difference?
While sway bars and shock absorbers impact your vehicle’s suspension, they are two distinct components that function in separate ways. Shock absorbers have a lot of valuable functions, but one of them is protecting your car from twisting and swaying. On the other hand, shock absorbers keep your car from bouncing too much and therefore provide a comfortable and relaxing ride.
Sway bars are also a single-purpose component. They assist you to stay steady and control your car while turning, but they don’t help level your vehicle or perform any other suspension-like activities.
What Is The Difference Between A Torsion And A Sway Bar?
Two of the most generally misunderstood automotive components are sway bars and torsion bars. They perform completely different purposes, although they both work in the same way. Sway bars and torsion bars prevent your car from rolling, while leaf springs are replaced by torsion bars. Torsion bars are a leveling component of the suspension, whereas sway bars are an anti-roll mechanism.
When Should You Replace Your Sway Bar Linkage?
When to replace the sway bar linkage is one of the most common questions people ask. Even though these are rated for at least five years of use, they may give out sooner. The state of the roadways may cause them to wear out, necessitating a replacement. It’s also possible to identify when the linkage needs to be replaced. These are the aspects:
1. Issues Of Balance Caused By Bad Sway Bars
The sway bar, as you may know, is responsible for balancing the car during a turn. It moves the vehicle’s weight to the other side, keeping it balanced during turns. The car will no longer be able to balance properly if it or the link has failed. You’ll see that the car is leaning further to the side of the bend.
On that point, if the bar is in poor condition, the car may roll over while making a quick turn. So, if you detect any balancing issues, you should immediately visit a repair and get the sway bar or link changed.
2. Quality Of The Ride
The riding quality can deteriorate if the link is in poor condition. And you’ll notice it when you’re driving over bumps. When walking on uneven terrain, the decline is especially noticeable. You’ll feel the blows more, and the suspensions won’t be able to help much.
3. Loose Steering Wheel
The steering wheel is directly connected to the sway bar. As a result, if something goes wrong with the linkage, it will affect the steering wheel. The wheel will feel loose, which is one of the most typical indicators. When the ball joints become worn or loosened, this occurs.
It’s possible that you won’t need to replace the entire linkage if this happens. However, if the condition of the joints is poor, it may be necessary to replace it.
4. Handling Issues Thanks To Poor Sway Bars
You’ll notice various handling difficulties in addition to balancing concerns. And you’ll only notice them if you’re turning. In addition to leaning too far to one side, the handling may suffer in particular turns. Furthermore, excessive tilting might reduce overall stability, resulting in poor handling.
If the sway bar or link is in poor condition, the handling can suffer significantly, similar to balancing concerns. And in that scenario, you’ll be waiting for something to go wrong. As a result, you should change the link as quickly as feasible.
5. Corrosion And Rust On The Sway Bars
Rust and corrosion are some of the physical state criteria that indicate whether a link needs to be replaced. If the linkage appears to be rusted and corroded, it should be replaced immediately. Its general functionality will be harmed by rust and corrosion, and it will not perform optimally as a result.
Corrosion can cause the joint balls to become loose. The steering wheel will also feel a little slack if they loosen up. So, if that’s the case, look for corrosion on the bar.
6. Strange Sounds From The Sway Bars
The noise is one of the most prevalent symptoms that the sway bar linkage is worn down. The connection, on the other hand, will only create noise under the worst of circumstances. Noises such as banging, squeaking, rattling, and shattering will be heard. Get it examined by a mechanic or oil the sway bar linkage if you hear these noises?
7. Worn Out Or Damaged Sway Bars
The apparent damages and evidence of wear and tear are other physical factors indicating whether the connection needs to be replaced. A thorough check will reveal symptoms of wear on the ball joints and physical cracks or breaking on the bar.
Damage to the bar occurs only after it has been used for a long time. The metal will usually deteriorate, with symptoms of breaking and holes. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should get the linkage or bar replaced.
Cost Of A Sway Bar Replacement
Sway bar replacement costs between $125 and $160 on average, with labor costing $50 to $70. Whereas the parts cost $55 to $110. It is uncommon to require a new one. A car’s sway bar end links or stabilizer bushings are usually in need of replacement.
The cost of replacing a stabilizer bushing ranges from $125 to $160, with labor costing $95 to $120 and the item costing $30 to $65. In most cases, replacing suspension parts on your own is not recommended, as this system is crucial to on-road handling and control. Changing your sway bar links or bushings isn’t difficult if you have basic mechanical understanding and the correct tools.
Facts About Sway Bars and Sway Bar Links:
- Sway bars keep the car stable and prevent excessive leaning when driving in turns.
- Most cars have one sway bar in the front and another in the rear, but some only have one in the front.
- Thicker sway bars are used in sports cars for better stability.
- Sway bars are connected via rubber bushings to the car body or frame in the middle.
- Sway bar links connect the outer ends of the sway bar to the suspension component that holds the wheel.
- Worn-out sway bar links can cause knocking or creaking noises when driving slow over bumps.
- Mechanics can check the sway bar links while performing regular service on the lift.
- A worn-out sway bar link can cause the car to lean excessively and feel less stable, and must be replaced to ensure safety.
- It is not necessary to replace both sway bar links if only one is bad, but both links usually wear at the same rate.
- Sway bar links are often replaced when a component they are connected to is replaced, and replacing them is not very expensive.
Final Verdict On Sway Bars:
Like everything else in your car, they function together in complete sync. The sway bar is connected to your vehicle’s struts or control arms, and it twists as these components compress and shift. If you’re still confused about what does the sway bar do, just remember that they twist to prevent your vehicle from doing the same.
Sway bars were not used in older automobiles, but as engineers learned more about the mechanics of vehicles, they discovered that these clever devices increased performance while also saving lives. So, praise that sway bar for keeping your wheels on the road the next time you take that turn a little too quickly.